The family farm was once the major productive unit in New Zealand. As the European settlers arrived, family-owned farms were established throughout the country, with women and children pitching in to make a living from the new land.
Today's family farms look and operate differently. Instead of everyone helping out with physical work, the whole family might be involved in marketing produce or the business side of running the farm. But the family farm unit is still strong.
2014 has been named the Year of the Family Farm by the United Nations, recognising the family unit's role in food production, environmental protection and sustainable development.
Produce and progeny
North of Auckland, at Paparoa, west of Maungaturoto, the Borger family are raising both chickens and children. Bert and Rebecca Borger and their five children, aged between 2 and 11, run a 12,000 free-range chicken farm, supplying eggs for the FRENZ brand. They moved from the city to the country nearly 12 years ago, returning from living and working overseas and deciding to get on the land.
"Neither of us come from farming backgrounds," says Rebecca. "I had done a business degree at Massey and majored in agricultural business, just out of interest, and Bert's grandfather had been a farmer in Holland, but neither of our parents were farmers.
"We knew the directors of the FRENZ company so we contacted them, and they were ready to have some bigger farms producing for them, so we went from there."
Rebecca says one of the biggest advantages of the family farm situation is the contact their homeschooled children have both with their father and the land. The oldest three Borger children - James, 11, Miriam, 10 and Lillian, 6 - are already on egg-collection duties on Saturdays.
"It is lovely having their Dad around for breakfast, lunch, and morning and afternoon tea," says Rebecca. "It's also great that the children get to see how the business is run, learn how the farm works and get a good work ethic."
The Borgers are happy to host visitors on the farm and run occasional open days (see sidebar).
When Pukekohe grower Allan Fong's father and grandfather set up their market garden 66 years ago, they probably didn't imagine that one day their crops would be winging their way out of Auckland and internationally.
But now not only is Fong's produce sold around the country, it is also flown to Asia twice a week.
Fong and his brother Colin, under the brand The Fresh Grower, have expanded the original family holding and now farm about 300ha, producing 22 different green leaf vegetables, from salad staples to Asian greens, and herbs. The Fongs have also opened an outlet in Hong Kong, air-freighting fresh produce twice a week to provide for a discerning market for whom food safety and traceability are paramount.
Growing up, Fong was hands-on on the family farm. "Like most [rural] kids of my generation, I worked after school, weekends - terrible!" Fong recalls genially. "Market day was Thursday so we had to bunk school on Wednesday afternoons to work, too."
The fourth generation, Fong's son Ryan, is also part of the business. Trained as a chef, he combines production with marketing, attending promotional shows and developing recipes and "meal solutions" for the modern market.
Colin's children are also keen to come on board - once they finish their education.
"For my parents and their generation, farming was heads down, butts up, long hours and hard work. They thought it was much better for their children to be educated and work in an office. But there is a lot more scope now, and attitudes have changed."
Rex and Delwyn Nixon are well qualified to share the Kiwi farming lifestyle with overseas and local guests. They have more than two centuries of family farming heritage between them. Rex's great-grandfather settled on the northwest Auckland property, part of which they now farm, 120 years ago, while Delwyn was also raised on a farm established by her great-grandparents, just down the road at nearby Riverhead.
The steady sprawl of greater Auckland means the Nixon's Taupaki farmstay is now just 10 minutes from the end of the northwestern motorway. Rex and Delwyn farm a 4ha corner of the main 30ha family farm, run by Rex's brother. Their "lifestyle block" is home to alpacas, kunekune pigs and miniature horses, plus four sheep and some chickens, while the larger farm runs cattle.
"We've got an assortment of animals, so when guests stay they can feed them, as well as looking around the larger block they can feed out hay in winter, and if there are cows to be hand-milked they can help with that," says Delwyn.
The majority of guests are from overseas, mainly Asia, but the Nixons also host local city families keen for a taste of rural family life.
The Nixons have three children and five grandchildren and hope the family connection to the land will continue.
"It's been great for our children and now our grandchildren, growing up on the farm. Hopefully we can continue that tradition, but the way the city is coming out ..."
Need to know
Check out meal ideas and recipes at thefreshgrower.co.nz. The Fongs' products are available through Foodstuffs supermarkets, some independent fruiterers, Nosh and Farro, and My Food Bag.
Take a walk through farming history at Scandrett Regional Park, or rent a bach and spend the weekend there. Website: regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
It's been great for our children and now our grandchildren growing up on the farm. Delwyn Nixon City kids love visiting farms and there's always something new to see and experience.
A century and a half of family farming history is lovingly preserved at Scandrett Regional Park, 70km north of Auckland in Mahurangi East. Lisadian, farmed by four generations of Scandretts, was sold to the then Auckland Regional Council in 1998 and officially opened as a regional park 10 years ago. The 44ha block is still operated as a working farm, running sheep and beef cattle, and three of the property's original community of holiday baches have been retained and are available for rent.
Along with its sheltered beach, one of the park's major drawcards is its family farming history. Many of the original farm buildings, including what must be one of New Zealand's most scenic cowsheds, have been retained and restored, with interpretative panels and recordings telling the story of life on the farm over the years.
Don Scandrett, the great-grandson of original owner George Scandrett, still lives over the hill from the park. Although he now commutes to Auckland for his day job as general manager for the Stroke Foundation's northern region, he still farms part of adjacent Goldsworthy and Martins bays.
Scandrett says he really began to realise what a special property it was when his involvement with the Young Farmers organisation took him around the country.
"For me, the farm was something that had always been there, but I really started to appreciate what was on our own doorstep," says Scandrett. "With that property, it was everything that went with it - the beach, the people [with baches]. It wasn't your typical family farm."
He says selling the farm to the ARC was "a great outcome for everybody", enabling the farm's heritage to be retained for future generations and to be shared with the public."